by Debra Moore
Who will teach the children?
That’s the biggest question on people’s minds during the public comment portion of the April 13 meeting of the Plumas Unified School District’s board of directors.
As of now, there will be 35 instructional positions open at the start of the next school year, representing 23 percent of the district’s total certificated staff, according to Scott Cory, director of human resources for the district. Open positions are the result of withdrawals and resignations. The teachers and the school district are currently in negotiations.
Michele Graham, who is retiring from Quincy Elementary School’s Alder Street campus, said during the meeting that “literally half of our staff plan on not coming back for the next school year” adding that “a lot of people say they can make more money elsewhere.” And it’s not just about money, he said prep time is another issue. Other school districts offer prep time to elementary school teachers, but not at Plumas Unified. “They feel like they’re taking too much time with their families,” he said.
Music teacher Jane Brown also addressed the school board. She is the only music teacher in the entire district, not because there aren’t more positions available, but because no one will take them. She said 11 applicants had been interviewed in the last 14 months, and “nearly all 11 were offered a job and none accepted.” She said the main problem is that applicants look at the pay scale and housing costs (if they can find a house) and can’t make it work. She encouraged the board to consider the pay scale as well as other steps that could be taken to make teaching in this district more satisfying.
She suggested adding more personal days to the calendar, specifically more personal days so that teachers can take care of things that need to be done during the week. She also encouraged the district to pay more of the health benefits. “As our health benefits go up, our take-home pay goes down,” she said, adding that even as a 33-year-old teacher at the top of the pay scale, she feels a drop in pay due to an increase in costs. Benefits. .
His last suggestion involved bonuses: money for signing a contract, as well as money for moving expenses.
Linda Gay, a special education teacher at the district’s special day preschool, asked the board to develop a plan to fill anticipated openings, seven of which are special education positions. She discussed some of the challenges of teaching, as well as the rewards, but said the district is “losing incredibly talented teachers” due to pay. She cited the increased cost of living and asked again, “What’s your plan?”
Carly Kurpjuweit is a teacher at Quincy Elementary School’s Pioneer campus as well as a mother of four young children and spoke during the meeting as both. She agreed with Linda Gay that she has seen “a lot of amazing talent leave the area” and she was concerned about what teaching her children would be like. “If we’re not competitive, I don’t know how we’re going to fill these positions,” she said.
Daryl Hutchins, who teaches at Jim Beckwourth High School in Portola, spoke on behalf of the Plumas County Teachers Association, in the absence of its president, Suzanne Stirling. He pointed out all the changes facing the district: a new superintendent, a new director of Human Resources and new teachers. The position of president of the teachers’ association will also be vacant as its current president, Quincy High School teacher Suzanne Stirling, will retire at the end of the school year. “It’s a scary time for a lot of teachers,” Hutchins summed up.
The school board does not respond to speakers during public comment, but teachers and the school district were scheduled to negotiate again on April 14.
GHS, VAT and sports
The other topic that got a lot of attention during public comment was the state of sports for high school students in Indian Valley. Ryan Schramel, who is principal and teacher at Indian Valley Academy (under Plumas Charter School), said he had been approached by the community about students from IVA and Greenville High School playing sports together. It had been done before, but issues with how attendance is counted became a point of contention. “We are an independent study school, so they have to complete assignments,” Schramel said, while in the school district a student must attend. He said it was difficult for the coaches to manage, but he thinks it might be possible. “Other places do it,” he said.
Schramel expects an enrollment of about 70 students next year at IVA, while Greenville High anticipates 25 students based on a survey sent to families earlier this year.
Mother Shannan Phillips agreed. “I will speak to you tonight regarding the reopening of GHS, but as a parent I cannot stress enough how important it is to have a sports program.” She said that while there has been a divide between the two schools, “there should be no reason not to have sports just because of low numbers.” She said her daughter would likely transfer from GHS to IVA if sports are not available.
Parent Megan Neer reiterated that sentiment. She is happy that GHS is open, but most of the people she has talked to want to watch sports and other activities that are offered. She said that while 25 kids said they would return, that number would go down without a sports program.
She said that GHS alone would only have five football players, but together the two schools would have 16 players. She said that this year her son has played soccer, basketball and baseball at Quincy High, which has been a great experience for him, but it was only possible because she could ride the bus to school. With the reopening of GHS, that would not be an option.
In addition to attendance, another issue is that both Greenville High School and Indian Valley Academy are members of CIF and some changes would need to be made.
Teacher Shortage and GHS
After the meeting, Plumas News asked both Assistant Superintendent Kristy Warren and School Board President Traci Holt about the status of Greenville High School if there are so few students planning to attend.
Both said the school district is committed to offering K-12 education in Greenville for the upcoming school year. The district is currently planning to staff Greenville Junior-Senior High School, which serves grades 7-12, with five teachers. Warren said he anticipates the campus will have 40 to 50 students when lower grades are added to the mix.
When asked about the possibility of elementary school (80 are anticipated to return there) and high school students sharing a campus, Warren explained that there are special requirements for different age groups, which would prevent that from happening.